Academic Lifestyle

How Theme Days Can Support Your Professional Goals

The following article is a guest post by Dr. Leigh Hall of Teaching Academia. More details about Leigh and her platform can be found below the article.

Throughout my academic career, I have found that it's easy to get overwhelmed with a variety of tasks. And, honestly, most of these tasks are things I enjoy and want to do! But the more I say "yes" to things, and the higher the pile becomes, the greater stress I begin to feel and the less enjoyable everything is.

Sound familiar?

It's hard to focus on writing that manuscript when I know I have a pile of papers to grade.

It's hard to focus on grading papers when I know that manuscript needs revisions.

And it's hard to focus on planning for my classes when I know I need to be designing a study.

I realized that when I started doing one thing my mind skipped ahead to all of the other things I needed to do. Yet, when I got around to one of those other things, my brain started running through the laundry list of still more things I needed to do.

Yep. I had a focus problem.

How Theme Days can Support your Professional Goals | The Academic Society for grad students and academics

But all of that changed when I learned about the concept of theme days while reading the book Make Time: How To Focus on What Matters Every Day.

What Are Theme Days?

The idea behind theme days is simple. You begin by assigning a theme for your day. In my case, a theme would be research, teaching, or service. Each day then has specific goals and objectives that I am working towards as well as its own schedule.

The beautiful thing about theme days is that it helps manage the thoughts that creep into my head and attempt to distract me. For example, if I am writing a manuscript, and thoughts pop up about teaching, I know that I can (usually - barring an emergency) ignore them because I have a specific day and time set aside to contend with those issues.

How Do You Create Theme Days?

What your days look like will depend on your job description. My job breaks down as follows:

  • 60% research; this is things like writing grants and publications as well as collecting and analyzing data

  • 25% teaching; I teach one class each semester

  • 10% service; this is all the stuff you would expect

  • 5% advising; I advise masters and doctoral students

So, to start, find out what percentage of your job falls into research/teaching/service.

Next, convert your number of hours worked per week into percentages. I know we all work more than 40 hours per week. But, for this example, I'm going to stick to 40. You should adjust things as needed.

In a 40-hour work week, those percentages above translate into:

  • 24 hours per week (minimum) for research activities

  • 10 hours per week (minimum) for teaching activities

I left service out of the equation for now because I have found that it's not a set percentage that needs to be attended to in any given week. It fluctuates. More on that in a minute.

For a 40 day work week, this means that:

  • research activities, at 24 hours, should be assigned to three eight hour days

  • teaching activities can be split into two five hour days

Obviously you can configure this a number of ways. All of that adds up to 34 hours. This gives me six hours to plug in service and/or create content for my youtube channel which is directly tied to my job.

Setting Your Theme Days

Now that you know how your job breaks down, and how much time you are expected to devote to each category, you can assign each day a theme. For the upcoming academic year, I have done the following:

  • Research: Monday/Tuesday/Thursday

  • Teaching: Wednesday/Friday

  • Content Creation: Wednesday/Friday

Service is still missing from here, and I've added in a new theme: content creation. As much as possible, I try to schedule all my meetings on Wednesdays and Fridays. This includes committee meetings and advising meetings. I'm not always in control of when committee meetings get set. This means that, every so often, a research or teaching day might get interrupted with a one hour committee meeting. However, this is rare and, overall, not too disruptive.

Content creation, like service, fluctuates in terms of how much attention I need to give to this. Some weeks I can get by with very little time and other times it takes more. I put it with teaching because teaching also flexes in terms of how much time it demands. The start of the semester will be a bit slower. The middle and end are typically busier. The amount of time I need for both teaching and content creation activities is not as consistent as the time I need for research.

Now that you have your days set up let's drill down into what you do on a given one.

Creating Goals & Objectives For Your Theme Days

For any given day, you want to have one-three goals you are working towards accomplishing. Goals are going to give you the bigger picture. They can include:

  • Submitting a manuscript

  • Revising and resubmitting a manuscript

  • Writing a grant proposal

  • Writing a conference proposal

  • Revising a program

  • Creating an advising philosophy

You get the point. These are big ticket items that cannot be completed in a single sitting.

Once you have your goal, let's use writing and submitting a manuscript as the example, you then want to set a deadline. For each day, you want to have specific objectives that move you towards completing your goal and meeting your deadline. I might do the following in starting a new manuscript:

If I'm starting a new manuscript, I might say that I'll be ready to submit it by December 15th. How will I accomplish this?I know that on Monday/Wednesday/Thursday I will, for some of that time, be working on writing it. There's a number of ways I can create objectives for each of those times. Here are some examples:

  • Draft the methods section

  • Revise the methods and findings sections

  • Read the literature that will support my theoretical framework

Notice that I didn't just say, "Write for two hours." While I will have set aside a specific block of time for my writing, I will also have specific things I am going to focus on during that time. I always know what I'm going to do when I sit down to write. When the time is up, I assess what I did/did not get done and write my objective(s) for the next session.

For example, drafting the methods section might take me three days. I don't assume that I will meet the objective in one sitting. However, having that objective gives me a purpose for my writing and allows me to hone in on what I am doing. If it is not completed I will roll it over.

Managing Your Time On a Given Day

Finally, map out how you will structure your time on a given day. For example, recently my research themed days went like this:

  • 7:00-11:00 am (writing)

  • 11:00-3:30: Data collection/analysis/research team meetings

I can break that down even further:

  • 7:00-9:00: Working on manuscript

    • Draft methods section

  • 9:00-10:00: Grant proposal

    • Read feedback and start revisions

  • 10:00-11:00: Conference proposal

    • Review the call, identify proposal type, and sketch out an outline

  • 11:00-11:30: Break

  • 11:30-12:30: Research Team Meeting

    • Each meeting will have an agenda based on where we are with the project

  • 12:30-2:30: Data analysis

    • Continue coding surveys

  • 2:30-3:30: Analysis Write Up

    • Write up what I have learned from the coding, questions I have, things I noticed, and next steps

The Benefits of Theme Days

I love using the concept of theme days in my work. It has helped keep me focused and made life more manageable. When thoughts creep in about other work I should be doing, I know that time has already been accounted for it so I can relax. It's easy to push the thought of, "You should be grading," aside when I know I have time specifically set up for that.

Finally, keep in mind that you can adjust this approach as needed. For example, you could have Monday mornings be about research and your afternoons might be devoted to teaching. The entire day doesn't need to be assigned a theme, and you may find that doing so won't work for you. But having large blocks of time devoted to a theme, and then goals/objectives and a schedule in place, will help keep your attention directed at what needs to be done.

Want a handout that will support you in designing theme days? Get it here.

Did you find this blog post extremely helpful? Then you will love other articles by Dr. Leigh Hall from Teaching Academia.

Leigh Hall received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, with an emphasis on literacy, from Michigan State University in 2005. She’s now a Professor and Endowed Chair of Adolescent literacy. .Teaching Academia focuses on helping you navigate academia to make your best impact. On this site, you will learn how to elevate your scholarship, teaching, and service activities in ways that help you have the career you want. You will learn specific tools and techniques you can use right now that will allow you to make an immediate impact.

Professor on Vacation: Miami Girls’ Trip Guide

In The Academic Society, we believe that hard work should be celebrated.  And what better way to celebrate a successful semester than with a vacation with my girls?  This year, my high school besties and I turned 30 so of course we had to plan a Flirty Thirty getaway!  We choose to celebrate in Miami and it was an amazing time.

Like the academics we are (we all went to the Mississippi School for Math and Science for high school or as I like to refer to it “nerd school”), we decided that our vacation should have a theme.  So we thought about what we really wanted from this girls’ trip and that was to relax, refocus, and rebuild. Which is exactly what we did.

When I told my mom about our vacation theme, Relax. Refocus. Rebuild. she laughed and said, “of course, even your vacations sound like a conference!”

Related Video: Day in the Life of a Professor

In this post, I’ll share exactly how we relaxed, refocused, and rebuilt during our vacation so that if you decide to travel to Miami with your friends, you have a little guidance.  I’ve also filmed a video guide, vlog style, if you prefer to watch instead of read.

Top Three Tips for Traveling to Miami

We actually made some pretty good decisions about our trip and made very few missteps.  There were three main decisions that we made that really enhanced our Miami vacation experience.

Travel Rewards Credit Cards.  ⅘ of my friend group have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card so we were able to use our points to travel.  I think this is the perfect card for new professionals interested in traveling. I booked my flight completely with my points and paid $0 so I felt that I could splurge on checking my luggage so that I could fit in a few extra outfits.  One of the best parts about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is that there is a signing bonus of 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of having your card. Note: my flight to Miami only cost me ~30,000 points. Here are some major benefits of the card:

  • Car Rental Insurance (helpful for my next tip)

  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

  • Roadside Assistance

  • Sharing Points with Friends

If you are interested in a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card of your own, you can learn more here!

Renting a Car.  We are so glad we made the decision to rent a car for our trip.  Miami attractions are located in multiple different neighborhoods that are miles apart.  We saved so much money by renting a car instead of using Uber or Lyft. At first, we were concerned about parking fees and gas but in the end we each only spent $10 to park and $5 for gas per person (there were 5 of us).

AirBnB.  Since there were five of us we decided to get a three bedroom AirBnB in North Miami.  It was so great to have the space to relax and decompress after each day. We had many girls’ nights with snacks and rom-coms on Netflix. Here’s the place where we stayed!

Miami Day 1

We actually flew into Fort Lauderdale and made sure to arrive within two hours of each other (we came from 5 different states).  Then we rented a standard SUV (which was a Chevy Equinox) from the airport and went shopping in the area based on a suggestion from our rental car agent.  She suggested we check out Sawgrass Mills which is the largest outlet and retail destination in the United States (their words).

If you are a shopper, you will love Sawgrass Mills.  There was a wide range of stores from high end designer shops to bargain shopping.


After shopping the day away, we finally made drove to our AirBnB in North Miami.  And decided to do some grocery shopping and pick up dinner to-go. We wanted to try Cuban food so we went to Little Havana Restaurant.  It was soooo delicious. The meals my crew and I recommend are the Palomilla Steak, Ropa Vieja, Chunks of Chicken, and Chunks of Pork. Each meal comes with the most delicious rice and beans and plantains.

Miami Day 2

On our second day we were rested enough from our travels to have a full day of exploring.  We stayed in North Miami for breakfast at Cafe Creme. We loved the atmosphere and the food was delicious!  The place was also very cute and Instagram pic worthy.


After breakfast, we headed to the neighborhood of Wynwood which is the art district.  There were beautiful murals on the side of almost every village. This was picture day for us!  There were so many cute backgrounds. We went to a park called Wynwood Walls. This is the perfect place to take a lot of pictures.  I recommend wearing solid colors so that you don’t clash with the background in your pictures.


Then we headed to a neighborhood called Little River with the most amazing place for food and good vibes, The Citadel.  The Citadel was probably my favorite place in Miami. On their website they describe it as, “a daily destination offering local artisanal foods, handcrafted cocktails, maker-driven retail, and culturally immersive experiences.” 


The food was delicious and I would have loved to go back if we had time in our schedules.  There are multiple little restaurants inside with food truck style menus. I ate from the Caribbean place and got gelato for dessert.  I highly recommend this place! I think they also have a rooftop and occasionally have live music.

And finally, for more dessert, we went to Cindy Lou’s Cookie bakery.  I didn’t personally get cookies but my friends enjoyed them.

Miami Day 3

We had the best weather on the third day of our trip so we decided to go to South Beach.  Once we got to the neighborhood, we went to the popular diner, Big Pink. Everything there is big and pink.  Even the windows of the restaurant were pink so everything had a pink glow and looked like an Instagram filter.  The most popular item on the menu was definitely the chicken and waffles. A couple of my friends got it and loved it!


When you go to South Beach, I recommend parking in a lot next to Big Pink.  There is street parking everywhere that you have to pay by the hour. But the valet parking next to Big Pink is only $10 for the whole day (June 2019).

After brunch, we headed to the beach across the street and went through the Marriot entrance.  There we rented a cabana bed thing that fit all five of us for $100 ($20/person). I highly recommend some type of cabana or umbrella if you want to enjoy your beach day in the heat.  Also, make sure that you bring water and snacks!


We stayed there for a couple hours and then went to the neighborhood of Coral Gables for a refreshing treat.  We got paletas (ice pops) from Morelia Gourmet Paletas. I got the strawberry paleta half dipped in chocolate and hazelnuts.  It was sooooo good!


Miami Day 4

On our final day, we went to multiple neighborhoods.  We started in Bayside which kind of has a boardwalk vibe.  There is a shopping center that overlooks the water and we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch.


Then we went back to Wynwood for a day party called Afro Beats.  There was music, drinks, and food. We hung out there for a while before finally going to Little Havana.

Little Havana had been on our list of must-see neighborhoods for our trip.  It was smaller than expected but pack a lot of Cuban culture in those few city blocks.  We went to Domino Park to watch the older people play dominos, watched someone make cigars, got churros, and went to the Ball and Chain.

The Ball and Chain is a restaurant/lounge that plays cuban music and on Thursdays at 9pm they offer free salsa lessons.  We got appetizers and drinks there. We ordered mint lemonade, cuban sandwich, wings, corn on the cob, chicken sliders. It was a really fun hangout spot that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Little Havana.

And then we went back to our AirBnB to pack and prepare for our early morning flights.

I hope that this blog post helped you plan your next vacation!  Any suggestions on where we should go for our next girls’ trip?

9 Cheap and Easy Side Hustles for Grad Students and Academics

I inadvertently started my first side hustle when I was a grad student and discovered blogging.  I started my blog with all intentions of it just being a hobby. Because I noticed that I had stopped doing things “just for fun”. You know how grad school demanding and all consuming.  It takes over your life! Can you relate?

Anyway, I started my blog and learned about affiliate marketing.  You know, the thing most Instagramers and YouTubers do. They talk about products that their audience would like.  And if their fans purchase the products using their link, the influencer could make a commission from the sale.

Well, as it turns out, this was just the beginning for me!  Learning about business became a major hobby of mine. Over the next five years, I learned everything I could about entrepreneurship and online marketing and I even started a couple side hustles beyond affiliate marketing.

As you can probably tell by the title of my website, I talk with a lot of grad students and academics.  And one of the topics that has come up is funding. Funding can be an issue in academia. Especially summer funding!

So, this summer, I’ll be running a program called Side Hustle Summer School to help grad students and academics start a profitable side hustle that requires minimal time and money to get started.

Sound interesting?  Well, I’ve created a free cheatsheet on the logistics of starting a side hustle in grad school or academia.  And by downloading the cheatsheet, you’ll get an invitation to join my FREE mini course on how to make money in academia.

Download the Side Hustle Cheatsheet

You may already know what kind of side hustle you want to start.  But you may not. So the purpose of this blog post is to give you a few ideas to help you get started.

9 Cheap and Easy Side Hustles for Grad Students and Academics

Cheap and Easy Side Hustles for Grad Students and Academics | The Academic Society

Every side hustle on this list is really easy to get started, really inexpensive to get started, or both.

Side Hustle Idea 1:  Tutoring

This one is probably a no-brainer.  As someone who has made it to grad school or beyond, you know a lot about school at this point.  You can tutor undergrads studying in your field. You could help with writing, problem-solving, or math.  You could even help students prepare for the SAT/ACT or the GRE.

Side Hustle Idea 2:  Virtual Assistant

Being a virtual assistant is a great side hustle to start because you can work for another business owner and learn a lot about how they run their business which could help you with yours.  Plus, you can do your VA tasks on your own time. Virtual Assistants to business owners typically do tasks such as transcribing videos or podcasts, schedule social media posts, or manage email inboxes.

Side Hustle Idea 3:  Social Media Manager

If you are particularly skilled or interested in social media and understand what works and doesn’t work on each platform, you could manage the social media accounts for another business owner.  There is a particular need for social media managers by businesses owned by “more mature” entrepreneurs or brick and mortar businesses. Your youth and social media know-how could be a major asset to them.

Side Hustle Idea 4:  Freelance Writing

I know you probably already do a lot of writing for school.  But is it fun and creative? You know, businesses pay people to write articles, quotes, and social media captions.  They could be paying you!

Side Hustle Idea 5:  Write a Book

Did you know that you can self-publish a physical book or an ebook for free on Amazon?  Well, you can and it’s super easy to do. So if you are interested in writing self-help, fiction, a cookbook, or even a book on crafting, you can write it and sell it on Amazon the very next day!

Side Hustle Idea 6:  House/Pet Sitting

Living in a college town can be great because everything revolves around the university that you attend/work at.  And often, professors will travel for the summer or go on sabbatical for a semester or to a conference for weeks. These people have pets and plants that they can’t take with them.  Or they just don’t want their houses to sit empty for weeks or months at a time. You could be their house/pet sitter.

Side Hustle Idea 7:  Nannying

For the same reasons listed above, professors may need babysitters.  If you like kids, this is something you could do for extra funds.

Side Hustle Idea 8:  Photography

If you own a nice camera and are passionate about capturing moments, you could be a photographer.  You could be a graduation photographer and specialize in senior pictures. You could take professional headshots for people at your university.  You could even be a wedding photographer! So many possibilities.

Side Hustle Idea 9:  Professional Organizer

There are so many people who struggle with creating an organized and decluttered space.  If you enjoy organizing and decluttering, you could do it professionally!

So what do you think?  These were just a few options but there are so many more side hustles that you could start as an academic.  

Does the process of starting a profitable side hustle sound overwhelming to you?  Not sure about the logistics or how much time and money it would actually take to do this?

I’ve answered those questions in my side hustle cheatsheet.  When you download the cheatsheet, you’ll be invited to my free mini course:  Make Money in Academia where I will walk you through coming up with your side hustle idea, creating a business plan, and actually starting your side hustle.

Download the Side Hustle Cheatsheet

How Two Grad Students Built an Accountability Relationship Online

I’ve noticed that, in grad school, there can be a disconnect between setting goals and following through on those goals.  Most of us love to plan and organize and make to-do lists. You probably spend Sunday evening or Monday morning setting goals and intentions for the week ahead.  I do!

But how many of those tasks do you actually get done each week? 75%, 50%, or 10%?

Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to actually follow through on those goals.  Especially, when you have so much unstructured time and no hard deadlines. It can be too easy to procrastinate.

Related Video:  The Only Way to Beat Procrastination

I believe that one way to actually follow through on those goals and responsibilities is through accountability.  I just wrote a blog post all about the 3 ways you can get started with accountability in grad school.

Today, I want to focus on the first step:  getting an accountability partner. I believe that accountability partners are essential for healthy and realistic productivity in grad school.  I believe in it so much that it is a major pillar of my group program, The Productivity Accelerator for grad students.

I first ran this 2-week program in February and 10 amazing grad students joined the program.  In the program, I paired each grad student up with an accountability partner. In this blog post, I will be highlighting one of those partnerships.

How Two Grad Students Built an Accountability Relationship Online | The Academic Society | Grad School Tips

Meet Mary and Katherine.  Mary lives in Florida and Katherine in Hawaii.  I recently discovered that they were still meeting as accountability partners even after the Productivity Accelerator had ended.  So I asked them to share their story.

Mary’s POV

We met each other through the productivity accelerator through zoom and then we maintained conversation on Facebook messenger! We mostly used Facebook to video chat once a week or every two weeks to touch base on our goals, and then we chat throughout the week on Facebook.

I have never had an accountability partner before, and after that I feel like I have a support system from the complete other side of the country. Before I felt overwhelmed and I was hesitant to speak about what was overwhelmed me.

But we share our own stories, I feel like I learn so much on how to tackle these everyday issues of being a grad student, including academic life, research, friendships and how to navigate interpersonal challenges in this environment that can be very high stress.

After this partnership, I felt more motivated and focused. Also, talking through issues like imposter syndrome helped me feel like graduate school is actually where I belong at this moment in my life. I realized that I am not alone, and that we are all trying to find our paths.

Related Post: 3 Must-Haves for Ultimate Accountability in Grad School

Katherine’s POV

Mary and I meet on Facebook Messenger. Every week, we message each other to check in, asking each other about our upcoming goals, challenges, and any major events we have going on. We also send each other encouraging messages throughout the week, especially if we've already communicated that we could use the extra support that week or on a particular day. We constantly remind each other that we've got this and that we can and will meet our goals!

Messaging has been a great way to articulate our goals clearly, set up that accountability relationship, and facilitate a space to both celebrate our successes and share in our struggles. In addition to messaging, Mary and I also have met a few times using video chat. For example, we've met on two occasions via video on a Saturday morning (my time)/afternoon (Mary's time) to do a co-working planning session. The opportunity to chat face-to-face has been especially beneficial for me, as I appreciate getting to feel like Mary and I are just sharing a coffee at the coffee shop and chatting organically that way (despite living on opposite sides of the US!).

It's also been a great way to set aside time for scheduling and organization, as well as providing a space to really talk through things we might be challenged by in the upcoming week and both give and receive advice on the matter.

I have never had an accountability partner before and I am loving it so far. Mary is fantastic – she's super smart, hard-working, and I can relate to so many of the joys she finds in her research as well as the struggles. Whenever we chat over video, we always end up exclaiming, "I'm the same way!" or "I feel you on that!" It's both validating to know that someone else goes through the same things that I do or thinks about their grad work in the same ways, but it's also a cool experience to voice that validation for someone else.

Before having an accountability partner, I struggled to find peers to talk to about my weekly goals, schedule, and struggles. I didn't have those connections in my grad program itself when I first joined Toyin's Academic Society (almost a year ago now), although I have been working to build some relationships of that nature here in Hawaii.

Personally, I have a hard time being motivated by internal accountability and often struggle to set and stick to deadlines that are only formulated between me, myself, and I. However, since having an accountability partner who I can relate to on so many levels, who really encourages and inspires me to be the kind of grad student I want to be, and who is in a field and university distinct from my own, I've been able to better set my own goals, deadlines, milestones, and actually meet them! Being part of a supportive community is so important in grad school – having those peers who you feel like are always going to be "on your side" and encouraging you – and, even more directly, it can make a huge difference in your own self-confidence and sense of belonging knowing that there's at least one person you can always reach out to to talk through your experience with.

Mary and I have only been accountability partners for a little over a month now, but there have already been so many benefits as a result of our partnership. In a more general sense, I feel like I have someone I can relate to in grad school – which was something I lacked before – and who I can share openly about my experience with, including but not limited to goals, accomplishments, and challenges. I have also felt more motivated to support others as well, through listening to and validating Mary's experiences.

I very much appreciate the space we've created through our partnership where we can have a mutual exchange of advice and ideas. One surprising benefit of having a partnership with someone who is not in my program/at my university is that I was able to tell Mary about an interpersonal problem I was going through with a peer in my own program and discuss that situation openly. Mary really listened to what I was experiencing and validated the upset I felt due to this other student's actions as real and nothing to be ashamed about.

Given her support, I was able to communicate how I felt about the situation with the other student involved and actually ended up having a meaningful conversation with that person about the impact of their behavior, which is a benefit I couldn't have foreseen but which has made my interactions at school so much healthier and uninhibited! (I want to mention this benefit in particular, as I don't think we're often willing, as adults, to articulate issues we're having with others, given worries about shame or embarrassment, and I want to be someone who IS open about these things and able to create a pathway for others to feel safe and accepted if they need to address any issues as well).

Ultimately, I am grateful that Toyin had the foresight to pair Mary and I as accountability partners during inaugural Productivity Accelerator, and I can't wait to see how our partnership develops as we continue on with our grad school goals.

Isn’t their story amazing?  I was blown away that my program would foster such a lasting relationship and friendship! You can hang out with them and other grad students in my Facebook community for grad students!

So, are you interested in building an accountability relationship with another grad student?  I offer the Productivity Accelerator 2-3 times a semester. And I want to invite you to join the waitlist to be the first to know when the program launches again.  The doors may be open now!

3 Must-Haves for Ultimate Accountability in Grad School

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to getting a graduate degree. Taking classes, reading assignments, writing papers, giving presentations, being a TA, going to conferences, conducting research, choosing a research area, finding an advisor, teaching classes, applying for jobs, and…oh yeah, trying to adult and have a social life too!

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, which makes it so easy for you to be over-stressed and experience burnout.

But there is definitely no reason to do it ALONE.

If you are familiar with The Academic Society, you know that we believe in accountability. Accountability can be the difference between making plans and schedules but still getting nothing done and actually following through on those plans.

In this post, I’ll be sharing three key tools to help you follow through on your goals and plans and actually get stuff done!

3 Must-Haves for Ultimate Accountability in Grad School | The Academic Society for Grad Students | Grad School Tips

Accountability Partners

The first tool to help hold you accountable is actually a person. I highly recommend that every grad student have an accountability partner. In grad school, a great candidate for an accountability partner is someone who is dedicated to both productivity and self-care in grad school.

In an accountability relationship, you can set up a time each week to meet (in person or virtually) and set goals for yourself for the week. Your accountability partner can help you set realistic goals each week so that you work on the right things. Remember, we want to be productive, not just busy.

Related Video: The Most Important Person in Your Grad School Life

Co-working Sessions

Have you ever had a co-working session in grad school? I have literally been my most productive self when I work in a co-working session! You can do these virtually or in person. When I was in grad school, me and one of my besties would either go to a library or coffee shop together on the weekends just to sit next to each other and get work done independently.

There’s something about sitting next to someone who is being productive that keeps you motivated to do the same. I find that when I work alone, I’m more likely to get distracted or quit earlier than I should.

Related Post: Productivity Accelerator for Grad Students

Public Affirmations

When I set a goal for myself, I find it helpful to share it with others. That way I feel more convicted to get my work done because I don’t want to be a liar! Lol! A great place to share your goals is in an online community like my Facebook group for grad students. I often post accountability threads in that group to see what my grad students are working on and check back in on them later in the week.

How to Get Started with Accountability in Grad School

I definitely recommend finding an accountability partner, having co-working sessions, and joining a community to share what you are working on. But that may seem overwhelming to do on your own. I actually offer all three of these tools in my program for grad students called the Productivity Accelerator.

The Productivity Accelerator Method is a two-week productivity sprint to help you be more focused and productive in grad school so that you can actually get stuff done instead of stressing over the amount of stuff you have to get done.  This method consists of three major components: planning, accountability, and follow-through. So if you are good at planning and setting goals but struggle with actually following through and implementing those plans, the key piece you are missing is accountability.  And the Productivity Accelerator Method will help you with that missing piece.

Goal Setting

The Productivity Accelerator begins with goal-setting. Step 1 is figuring out what and how much you want to accomplish in grad school during the 2-week bootcamp. The Productivity Accelerator includes:

  • a strategy session with Toyin

  • backwards design roadmap

  • creating your 2-week plan


The second step of the program, is all about holding yourself accountable. This is a group program for a reason. The Productivity Accelerator will include a community of like-minded grad students as well as:

  • community work sessions

  • accountability partners

  • daily check-ins


Raise your hand if you love to plan! Most of us do! But actually following through with your plans is the hardest part. In the Productivity Accelerator, we will use the 2-week sprint method to:

  • help you start (and beat procrastination)

  • move from abstract plan to concrete work

  • keep you focused on what’s important

So what do you think? Have some work you really need to get done in the next couple weeks? Interested in joining the Productivity Accelerator to be paired up with another grad student as your accountability partner and have co-working sessions for two weeks? You can sign up to be on the waitlist for the program to be the first to know when the program is offered (2-3 times a semester).

The Productivity Accelerator Method for Grad Students

Do you ever struggle with staying focused and motivated in grad school?  Do you ever get so overwhelmed that you fall into a black hole of procrastination, from which there is no escape? Ok, that was dramatic.  But it’s happened to me! So I’ve come up with a method to get get you out of your unmotivated, unproductive funk. It’s called the Productivity Accelerator Method.

But I do have to warn you.  It shouldn’t be used all semester long.  Just when you have a lot of work to get done and you need a boost of productivity and motivation.

The inspiration for this method that I came up with for you was taken from the tech industry.  Often, a team will have a large project that they have to complete in the future. So to optimize productivity, they break their larger project into smaller two-week sprints.

And that’s what the Productivity Accelerator Method is!  A two-week focused and productive sprint. So if you are ready to learn how to, occasionally, implement this method into your grad school routine, let’s jump right in.

The Productivity Accelerator Method for grad students to be more focused and get stuff done in grad school | The Academic Society

The Productivity Accelerator Method

The Productivity Accelerator Method is a two-week productivity sprint to help you be more focused and productive in grad school so that you can actually get stuff done instead of stressing over the amount of stuff you have to get done.  This method consists of three major components: planning, accountability, and follow-through. So if you are good at planning and setting goals but struggle with actually following through and implementing those plans, the key piece you are missing is accountability.  And the Productivity Accelerator Method will help you with that missing piece. But first, let’s start with the plan.

Planning your Sprint

The first thing you should do before you implement your sprint is to set the dates.  Look at your calendar and find find the two weeks that you want to do the sprint. Then, make a list of all of your due dates and deadlines that you will have during those two weeks as well as a week after your sprint dates.

When you have made a list of your assignments, papers, presentations, and lectures that you want to get done during your sprint, determine how much time you need to spend on each of your tasks.  And make sure that you are being realistic. Don’t write that you only need two hours to write a paper when it usually takes you 5 hours.

Once you know what you need to get done and how long you need to get those things done, go through your weekly schedule, or create one, and schedule productivity chunks.  Productivity chunks are big blocks of time set aside to get stuff done.  They can be anywhere from 1 hour to 4 hours. But it must be time that you dedicate to productivity and not messing around on Facebook or your email.

Related Mini-Course: How to Create a Productive Weekly Schedule in Grad School

So schedule your productivity chunks during your two-week sprint.  I’m normally an advocate for moderation, but I would recommend scheduling more productivity chunks than usual.  Remember, this is a two-week sprint and not something that you should try to endure for any longer! I can’t stress that enough!

Finally, create a progress chart.  You can set this up however you want.  By days or by assignments/tasks completed.  You are going to want to keep track of how much you get done so you can celebrate your wins each day!


Once you have scheduled your two-week sprint, you need to find a way to keep yourself accountable. I don’t recommend doing this on your own.  I recommend getting an accountability partner. I stressed the importance of having an accountability partner you need in one of my recent YouTube videos.

First, determine the kind of accountability you need.  Do you need regular check-ins, reminders, planning sessions, co-working sessions, or all of the above?  Decide what you need and then find an accountability partner to sprint with you. They don’t need to be working on the same things as you or even at the same time.  They just need to want to get stuff done and be open to some accountability.

If you don’t have anyone to ask to be your accountability partner, check out my Facebook group for grad students.  There are over 200 grad students in my group who are committed to success in grad school. It’s called The Academic Society for Grad Students and this is your official invitation.

Facebook Group: The Academic Society for Grad Students

Once you have an accountability partner, set accountability check-ins.  I would suggest meeting either in person or via video at the beginning and end of each week to set a plan and recap what happened and determine if adjustments need to be made.  You should definitely be in contact with your accountability partner 3-5 times a week but planning and reporting sessions don’t need to happen that often.


Now let’s talk about the final, most important, and longest component of The Productivity Accelerator Method.  This is what you actually do during your two-week sprint. Now that you have a plan with accountability, how do you actually get stuff done?

Each day, I want you to create a realistic to-do list for your productivity chunks.  Write down the tasks and assignments you want to get done each day. Then I want you to implement the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.  In grad school, I think you can stay focused for longer than 25 minutes so I recommend working for 45 minutes straight and then taking a 15 minute break and repeating the cycle until your productivity chunk is over.  This techniques keeps you from feeling completely drained and burned out after two hours of working and calling it a day. After each break, you will feel a bit refreshed and ready to take on the next task. It’s a way to game-ify your productivity.

I also recommend having one goal per pomodoro.  You want to be able to singularly focus on the task at hand.  When you multitask and have to switch what you are doing in your brain, you actually decrease your productivity by a lot.  So just work on one thing during your one pomodoro. You have the next one to work on something else.

After you have finished a productivity chunk, I want you to acknowledge what you were able to accomplish and celebrate the win.  You can share it with us in the Facebook group or treat yourself to your favorite self-care activity.

Facebook Group: The Academic Society for Grad Students

Of course, self-care is a part of The Productivity Accelerator Method!  It’s me, Toyin, advocate of self-care in grad school, writing this blog post.  So yeah, it’s included in the method. Not sure what is considered self-care? I’ve created a checklist in my #GRADBOSS planner of self-care activities you can do in grad school to help you decompress and feel less stressed.

Freebie: #GRADBOSS Semester Planner and Reflection Journal

And after you’ve done that, get some sleep and repeat the follow-through process the next day.  That’s it!

I do realize that this is a lot of work but that’s why it’s called a sprint.  And you will, for sure, be focused and get a lot of work done! So, if that’s what you are into, The Productivity Accelerator Method is for you!

Don’t want to do it alone?  Well, I’m inviting you to join me and a few other grad students to do The Productivity Accelerator Method together at the same time.  Periodically, I will be hosting a live Productivity Accelerator to give you a boost in focus and productivity.

During the live program I will be setting up accountability groups and planning co-working sessions so that we can (virtually) work together and pomodoro at the same time and have dance parties during our breaks!

Are you in?  If so, you can sign up for the waitlist to be the first to know when the next live Productivity Accelerator is happening.  Also, by signing up for the waitlist, you will get The Productivity Accelerator Method planning worksheet to help you set up your sprints whenever you are ready to implement one.

9 Benefits of Being Single in Grad School

I went into my PhD program straight from undergrad.  But most of my cohort did not. Some of them worked or got their master’s first.  So they had a little more life experience than me. And with that life experience came relationships.  Most of my fellow grad students were already married or in series relationships when they started grad school.

I was single during all 5 years of my PhD program.  And, at times, I felt like I was missing out on something by being single.

You know how it is.  Social media showing all of the engagement, wedding, and baby pics at the top of your feed.  

But it wasn’t until after I finished grad school that I realized there are a lot of benefits to being single in grad school!  And I’m sharing all 9 of the benefits I got in this blog post.

9 Benefits of Being Single in Grad School

9 Benefits of Being Single in Grad School, Grad School Advice, Grad School Tips, The Academic Society

When you are single throughout an experience as grueling as grad school, it can be easy to feel like you are missing out on extra support both emotionally and financially. So I wrote this post and filmed this video to show you that your singleness can provide support for you too.

More time to make friends

As a grad student, once I started making friends in my department, I was able to spend a lot of time bonding with them.  We would have movie nights, game nights, and potlucks. I got to learn about new cultures and celebrate different holidays with my classmates.  I was also invited to join lots of study groups!

Related Post:  9 Ways to Make Friends in Grad School

Free time = Me time

Whenever I got a much needed break from studying, teaching, research, and other duties, I was able to spend that time however I wanted.  I didn’t have to spend it nurturing a relationship or catering to/respecting anyone else’s needs. I could binge Netflix shows, eat junk food, and go to the movies whenever I wanted without worrying about anyone else’s schedule.

Girls’ night all the time

When I was in grad school, me and my friends would have a girl’s night almost every week.  We loved watching the Shonda shows together (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder).  We would also do the occasional crafting project and attempt a Pinterest hack or make Halloween costumes together.

9 Benefits of Being Single in Grad School

You can be selfish

I’m an only child, so this was easy for me.  But when I was in grad school, I really didn’t have to worry about anyone else.  When I was stressed out or overwhelmed, all of that anxiety was my own. When I got home, I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s feelings or stresses.  And that was nice.

Easier job search experience

The nice thing about being single during a job search is that I could choose to apply for jobs wherever I wanted.  I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s opinions and I didn’t have to worry about finding a job for my partner in the new town or uprooting my family.  I was able to choose the perfect jobs for me!

Small salary for yourself

We all know grad students don’t get paid a lot, if at all.  But the nice thing about being single in grad school is that you don’t have to spend your salary on anyone else but yourself.  You could choose to eat Ramen everyday or go shopping with the cash. It’s all up to you!

Related Video: How to Survive on a Grad Student’s Budget

Build deeper friendships

Because I was able to spend so much time with my friends, I was able to develop deeper friendships.  Me and my grad school besties would be together all the time. I shared an office with one of them. We would give our tests and assign homework on the same days so that we could have grading parties.  The chair of the department started calling us the Three Amigos. And now that we all have jobs, we can visit each other’s towns and not have to spend money on a hotel. Whenever I go to Charlotte or Hawaii, housing is free! Enjoy the view from our sunrise hike in Hawaii!

9 Benefits of Being Single in Grad School

Conference travel is easier

This is more of a benefit of not having children.  But when I traveled to conferences, I could travel alone.  I didn’t have to worry about making arrangements for my partner or having to bring kids along.  Especially with funding for conferences, you can be funded but your family won’t be. The pic below is me and my friends from grad school having dinner at the Joint Math Meetings in 2017.

9 Benefits of Being Single in Grad School


I think this is the most important benefit of being single in grad school.  I was able to get to know ME in grad school! I know who I am now and therefore, I make way better decisions about dating than I would have back when I was in grad school.  I know exactly what I want and I’m less likely to settle. I know my worth.

Those are the 9 benefits I got from being single in grad school.  Are there any more that you’ve experienced? This post was not written to bash anyone in a relationship or with a family in grad school.  When you are single, it can feel so isolating and lonely and I just wanted to let you know that you are gaining a lot as well by being single in grad school!


And finally, I’ll leave you with a few blog posts by my favorite blogger, Sheila! She always shares the best dating stories on her blog! Here are a few of my favorites: 6 Dating Red Flags to Watch Out For, My Dating Confessions, Top 7 Worst Dates

I find my self crying laughing at her all to relatable blog posts about being a millennial woman on the dating scene.

When you check out her blog, make sure you leave a comment letting her know that I sent you!

9 Ways to Make Friends in Grad School

Making friends as an adult can be hard.  Especially when you are in grad school and everyone in your cohort is in a different stage of life.  It’s so easy to isolate yourself or think that you can be independent in grad school.

I actually believe that becoming friends and bonding with your grad school cohort is essential if you want your grad school experience to actually be enjoyable and not soul sucking.

That brings me back to the issue of making friends in grad school.  I’ve talked with a lot of people who are in grad school including the grad students in my Facebook group, The Academic Society for Grad Students, about making friends in grad school.  Many of them tell me that they haven’t been able to bond with their fellow grad students or that the rest of their program doesn’t like them or excludes them from study groups and social events.

If you’ve ever felt isolated or excluded in grad school, this post is for you.  I’m sharing my 9 tips for making friends in grad school.

How to Make Friends in Grad School

Having friends in grad school can be so beneficial and can help you have a better experience in grad school.  If you had friends in grad school, you could study together, ask for advice, and have an understanding shoulder to cry on.

My suggestion is to not try to start or jump in a study group right away.  Try bonding with your fellow grad students socially first. Then it will be much easier to work together.  But how do you do that?

I’m glad you asked! Here are my suggestions and actual things I did to make friends in grad school.

9 ways to make friends in grad school, grad school tips, grad school advice, the academic society

Invite a classmate to a workout class.  

If you enjoy exercise, this could be a great way to make a friend.  When I was in grad school, my (now) friend, Veny, invited me and our other friend Kaitlyn to go to a Zumba class.  We had never hung out with Veny before. But we said yes. And that eventually led to us going to other exercise classes and becoming best friends!  We were inseparable in grad school and the chair of our department started calling us the Three Amigos.

Host a potluck.  

Potlucks are the way grad students party.  Gone are the days of clubbing and house parties.  As a grad student, all you want is free food and to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  So a potluck is the perfect social event to do that! Plus this can be a great way to learn about your classmates’ diverse cultures. Below is a picture of my potluck crew.

how to make friends in grad school

Host a game night.  

In my last couple years in grad school, my department would always have game nights every Friday.  We would mostly play this werewolf game and it was a lot of fun. Game nights are a fun way to get to know people very quickly.

Go to a concert.  

If you live in a town where there are concerts, you should invite some of your fellow grad students to listen to some music with you.  When I was in grad school, the Backstreet Boys came to Tuscaloosa. Me and my two besties all grew up listening to Backstreet Boys so we were sooooo excited to be able to see them in concert.  It was such a great night and a great way to bond! We still talk about that concert 5 years later!

how to make friends in grad school

Try a new restaurant.  

Something I really miss about living in Tuscaloosa, AL is the food!  Me and my friends would always try new restaurants together. You can invite a classmate or two to lunch with you to try out the cuisine in your new town.

Celebrate birthdays.  

The first outing I went on with my cohort was to celebrate Kaitlyn’s birthday.  Her birthday is in September. We had started school about a month before and I hadn’t spent any time outside of class with anyone in my program.  So when I was invited to Kaitlyn’s birthday lunch, I quickly accepted and got to know some of the other people in the department. We even took a picture commemorate the day (you can see how fresh faced and young we were below).  My suggestion is to find out when someone’s birthday is and have a lunch in their honor. Or, invite people to celebrate your birthday!

how to make friends in grad school

Movie night.  

I love a good movie night.  You can invite a few people over for a girl’s night and watch a rom-com, superhero movie, or whatever you’re into.  I actually invited a few of the girls from my department over for a movie night in our first semester. We made cookies and mozzarella sticks and just talked the whole night.  We never even picked out a movie to watch!

Go to football games.  

If you are in grad school, you are probably at a big state school where football is a big deal.  I went to the University of yeah, it was a BFD. Me and my cohort would go to the games together, suffer in the heat, and laugh at the ridiculous, over-passionate undergrads.  It was a great bonding experience for us all! Roll Tide!

how to make friends in grad school

Join an online community.  

As I mentioned before, I host a Facebook group for grad students.  In that group, I help with accountability, time management, and productivity.  So if you are interested in being a part of that group, click here to request to join and I’ll accept you!

Those are my suggestions for making friends and bonding with your grad school cohort.  I suggest to start socially. Once you get to know each other socially and become friends, you’ll be someone your classmates think of when they want to study with a group or work together on assignments.  You can have fun together and kick butt together in grad school together!

How to Manage Your Time and be Productive in Grad School

Do you ever feel like you’re working all the time but never get anything done?  Or do you find yourself working on one task all day and neglecting your other responsibilities?  Or maybe you have so much to do that you forget what you need to get done and end up working late or waking up super early to get stuff done?

All of the above are my experiences from grad school.  I always felt like I wasn’t being productive enough to get all of my work done.  But really, it was a lack of time management skills that I was missing.

However, I quickly got my act together and found a way to manage my time more effectively and be more productive every day.  I started implementing a morning office routine that helped me to stay on track, manage my time, and be productive every single day.

And today, I’m sharing my productive office morning routine with you!  You can read all about it below or watch my YouTube all about it. I even have a pdf template of my morning routine that you can use.

Productive Office Morning Routine

How to Manage your time and be productive in grad school, the academic society for grad students

  1. Brain dump everything you need to get done today.  The first thing I do when I get to my office is take 5 minutes to sit in silence and write down everything that I need to get done.

  2. Prioritize your to-do list.  Then I go through my list and figure out what things need to get done or started first.

  3. Determine your top 3.  Did you know that if you have more than 3 tasks on your to-do list, you are less likely to get everything done?  So I like to create a smaller priority list of 3 tasks that I need to get done first.

  4. Set time limits.  I also like to write down how much time I plan to spend on each task.  This is the time management portion of the routine. If a task takes longer than expected, you can always come back to it later after you’ve finished the remaining tasks on your priority list.

  5. Check your email.  Finally, I check my email to see if there are any other responsibilities or tasks that I need to remember to do in my day.  Warning. Never do this step first. It’s so easy to waste time in your inbox.

You can get a pdf template of this morning routine that you can use every morning by entering your name and email below!

I hope that you have found this post helpful!  If you try out this routine, I want to hear about how it works for you!  DM me on Instagram @theacademicsociety_ and share your productivity wins with me!

How to be Productive during Thanksgiving Break

How are the final weeks of the semester going? As a lecturer, things are starting to wind down for me. But if you're a grad student, Thanksgiving break is likely the calm before the storm that is the final weeks of the semester. Whether you are a grad student or a new faculty member, I want to help you make the most of your Thanksgiving (or Fall) Break.

Typically, when you set out to be productive during a big break, one of two things will happen. You will be so focus on your goals and being productive that you don’t enjoy your break and you come back to school completely drained. Or, you have every intention to get stuff done but you spend all of your time with friends and family or just watching Netflix and then you are forced to do all of your work the night before school starts back.

I want to help you find a balance between the two. Because, I truly believe that you can be successful in academia and live a fulfilling life at the same time! So, here are my tips.

How to be Productive, productivity for grad students, productivity for new faculty members, the academic society

How to be Productive During Thanksgiving Break

I shared a video on my YouTube channel all about how to do this! Here are the highlights:

1. Make a plan to be productive.

You know I love a good planning session! Before you start your break, take out a notebook or a planner and write down all of the things you want to get done during the break. Then condense the list to only the things that are a priority. The key is to be realistic. You don’t want to come up with a plan that is too overwhelming.

2. Choose the days you want to get stuff done. Try to choose no more than 2 days.

It’s so easy to say that you want to get stuff done and then just sit on the couch and watch Netflix all week. Just me? Something I like to do is to choose 2 days during my break that I want to be productive. That way, I can mentally prepare myself and hopefully not procrastinate.

Related video: The only way to Beat Procrastination

3. Choose the tasks you want to get done...before the break, so you don't waste time deciding what you need to during your productive time.

Now that you’ve decided the days you want to work. Go back to your to-do list and schedule which tasks you want to get done on each day.

4. Try to spend no more than 3 hours per day getting stuff done.

You really don’t need all day to get work done. I recommend 3 hours of working time per day. If you are productive for 3 hours, there is sooooo much that you can get done. And you still have the rest of the day to enjoy your friends and family!

5. Schedule time to enjoy yourself!

Don’t forget about YOU! Is there a movie you want to see, or friend you want to visit? Make time in your productive Thanksgiving schedule to do something that fills you up!

I hope that this post was helpful and that you enjoy your break so that you are ready to conquer the remaining weeks of the semester!

how to be productive, productivity for grad students, productivity for academics, productivity for new faculty members, the academic society
how to be productive, productivity for grad students, productivity for academics, productivity for new faculty members, the academic society

Productivity Hack: Why you Should Keep a Journal as a Grad Student or New Faculty Member

I know what you may be thinking.  Isn’t journaling for preteen girls to write their current crush’s name inside of a hand-drawn heart?  Well, yeah.  But it’s also for graduate students who want to succeed and progress in their programs feeling less overwhelmed and manage time more efficiently!  It’s a great way to keep your productivity waaaay up!

I started keeping a journal last summer when I was planning my blog launch (my second blogging attempt....).  In it, I kept my daily to-do lists, my long and short-term goals, as well as ideas for the future.  The specific type of journal I kept is called a Bullet Journal, and let me tell you, it was so fun!  If you want to learn more about the Bullet Journal, or as us journalers call it, the BuJo, check out this super official website as well as these really pretty ones on Pinterest.

In today’s, post, I am giving you a list of reasons why keeping a journal is especially important for productivity while in graduate school.

Productivity hack for new faculty members and graduate students | The Academic Society


Keeping a journal can give you a safe place to reflect on the thoughts and emotions you have about your career.  Maybe you had a wonderful day at teaching or at work.  It’s good to acknowledge what you did that day and what made it so great.  Or maybe your day wasn’t the best.  Writing about it can be a nice release of those negative feelings and can help you to not dwell on it longer than necessary so that you can move forward.


Journaling is great for motivation.  Something that I love to add to my journal is a to-do list.  Checking something off of my to-do list is so satisfying and it helps me to celebrate each little win.  In an article in the Harvard Business Review called The Power of Smalls Wins, the authors’ research proved that making progress in meaningful work boosts emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday.  Writing in a journal can give you a place to keep track of that progress.

Keeping Track of Accomplishments

It’s also nice to keep a running list of all of your achievements.  If you do something awesome or get complimented on your work, write it down.  You’ll need to have these things on hand when it’s time for to start applying for jobs and funding opportunities!


Speaking of job applications, do you know everything that is expected of you to apply for jobs in academia?  If not, find out immediately.  You can get a checklist here.  Then you can write down all of these things in your journal.  And now that you know where you are going, you just need to make a plan to get there.  For example, being innovative in teaching is a part of my promotion requirements.  So each week I try to do something new in the classroom to see how my students react to it along with how well they grasp the material.

Related Post:  When to Start Applying for Jobs in Academia


A journal is a great place to write down all of your ideas for research or teaching, big or small.  Maybe there are colleagues that you want to collaborate with or service projects that you want to put together or be a part of.  Maybe there is new research in your field and you want to apply the results in your project.  The sky’s the limit!  I try to keep a running list of new activities for my students to work on in groups.  So far, the biggest hit was Derivative Sudoku.  Today, I’m trying a matching game with graphs of functions and their derivatives.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

How I use my Journal Daily

  1. I like to take 5-10 minutes either in the morning or the night before work to plan my day.  This typically consists of a To-Do list.  See my pro tip below.

  2. Throughout the day, I will write down any new ideas or goals that I think of.

  3. At the end of the day, I reflect on everything I’ve done and evaluate what’s working for me and what is not.

Pro Tip:  Try to keep your To-Do list short.  3-4 items is about all that one can manage without becoming overwhelmed.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post.  Using my journal helps me to stay focused at work and keep my productivity at 100%.  Do you currently keep a journal?  What type of things do you write in it?  If you don’t keep a journal, are thinking about keeping one now?

How to Write an Email + 22 FREE email templates every grad student needs



Download the 22 Email Templates!


pinterest template (6).png

Have you ever wanted to send an email to one of your professors, department chair, or your advisor and you didn’t know how to start it?


Should the tone be conversational?  Or strictly professional?  How long should it be?  What should the subject line say?


It can be difficult to strict the right balance between professional and casual.  Or even, too much information v. not enough information.


When I was a grad student, I was the go-to girl when it came to sending emails.  My friends would always ask for my help when they were sending an email to someone they didn’t know.


Why was I so good at it?  I’m not sure, but I realize now that my parents can be very formal people and I probably learned all about email etiquette from them.


Typically in academia, especially in the STEM fields, you can’t really go too wrong in an email.  But I do want to give you some guidelines and benchmarks to use.


Throughout my grad school experience, I’m sure I sent about 1000 emails but I did notice which one’s I wrote most often.  Here is a list of some of the emails grad students will write before graduation:


  • Making an appointment for office hours

  • Asking for a letter of recommendation

  • Asking faculty members to be on your dissertation committee

  • Meeting with your advisor

  • Accepting a job offer

  • Declining a job offer

  • Asking for funding

  • Scheduling an interview

  • Declining an interview

  • Contract negotiations

  • Thank you’s

  • Applying for a job

  • Asking for advice

  • Applying for summer research programs

  • First day of class for your students

There are many more but me and my friends spent a lot of time crafting these emails together.


Download the 22 Email Templates!



Let’s get started!  Here are my suggestions for how to write an email in grad school.  (Btw, you can pin the image below for safe keeping!)

how to write an email pin.png


The Subject of the Email


Your subject line should be as descriptive as possible.  If you are sending an email to a faculty member, they are probably very busy and get soooo many emails from students.  (They teach undergrads too…)


So, without making my subject line overly complicated, I try to fill it with as much information as possible.  So that they can get everything they need to know about the email without even opening it.


For example:  Suppose you want to make an appointment to ask your professor some questions about a homework assignment but you can’t make it to their scheduled office hours.  I would use the following as my subject:


Office hour appt. 8/23 between 1-3pm?


From the subject line alone, the professor will know that you need help with a class, you can’t make the scheduled office hours, and when you are available to meet.


Just by making your subject line super detailed, you will probably relieve your professor of some anxiety and stress.  As a full time faculty member, sometimes I cringe when I get an email from my students.  Not that I don’t like to communicate with them.  But usually when they email me something is wrong.  Maybe they will need to miss a test or the software for the homework is malfunctioning.  I even put off opening email just because I don’t want to think about whatever the issue will be until later.


So yeah, a super detailed subject line is great!


The Greeting of the Email


Just be normal.  Say “Hi Dr. Blah Blah” or “Hello Professor So-and-So.”  There is no need to be ridiculously formal.  


If you don’t know who you are emailing, you do know why you are emailing them.  For example, let’s say that you are applying for a job in academia and you have to submit your application materials via email.  I suggest using “Dear Search Committee” over “To whom it may concern.”  “To whom it may concern” just feels overly formal and kind of cold to me.


On the other hand, you don’t want to be too casual.  Don’t say “what’s up” to your professors…unless that is the type of relationship you have developed with the person you are emailing.


I wouldn’t worry too much about the greeting.  Again, just be normal.






Download the 22 Email Templates!



The Body of the Email


Get straight to the point.  Try to put the most important information in the first sentence.  Then you can elaborate in the rest of the email.  You don’t want the person you are emailing to have to search for the purpose of your email.


What if the person you are emailing doesn’t know you?

If the person you are emailing doesn’t know who you are just by reading your name at the closing of the email, your first sentence should explain who you are:


Hi, I’m Toyin from your MATH 2250 class (9am)


Then move right into the reason for your email.


How long should the body of the email be?

As short as possible, no fluff.  You don’t need to try to impress whoever you are emailing.  They will be more impressed with you getting straight to the point and being succinct than with your ability to craft 3-5 sentence paragraphs.


What if you reference outside information?

Make sure that you include all links and attach all supplemental information to the email.  Don’t make the reader have to leave the email to search for anything.


The Closing of the Email

Again, my advice is to be normal.  You don’t need to say, “Yours Truly.”  “Best” is my go-to and “Sincerely” is good too.


The only times I stray away from my go-to closing is typically when I am talking with one of my students and they tell me bad news.  Maybe a family member is sick or they are having a hard time.  I like to end with this:


Warm regards,

Dr. Alli


Those are all of my tips and guidelines.  How do you feel about your email etiquette as a grad student?


If you want to save some time, copy and paste my emails.  I have email templates for 22 emails that every grad student will write.  Download them here.

How to Prepare for the First Day of Class for Grad Students and New Faculty Nervous about Teaching for the First Time

I remember being told that I had to teach in my 3rd year of grad school.  I was terrified.  I’m quite shy and hate speaking in front of people.  I felt instantly overwhelmed.  I had never taught a class before.  I was not an education major in undergrad.  And my GTA Teacher Training happened 2 years prior and was not discipline specific.


I had so many fears and questions about that first day of class:


What if my students don’t listen to me?


What if I’m a horrible teacher? Poor students.


What if I make a mistake?


How to Prepare for the First Day of Classes as a Graduate Student Nervous about Teaching | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

You’ve probably had these same questions.  And that’s why I’m here.  I survived my first day of class and discovered that teaching was my passion.  So I want to give you some tips, tricks, and encouragement for your first day of class.


Who is this article for?

This post is for any graduate student or new faculty member preparing for the first day of classes.  It will be particularly helpful for students who have never taught before.  I hope to relieve some of your fears.  This post is also for graduate students who have taught before and want to check that they have everything set for the first day of class.



In my opinion, it all starts with coming into class on the first day with the right mindset.  Have you heard the saying, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”?  While it’s good to be prepared, I think that quote sends a negative message.  I like to go into my first day of class with a positive attitude, expecting that it will be the best class I’ve ever taught.  And if it is your first time teaching…it will be!  So no pressure!


It’s not about you

All of those fears and questions I mentioned at the beginning of this post were all about me.  But when you are teaching a class, it’s not about you at all.  It’s about the students.  You are there to help them learn.


Yes, you are busy and have other, more important things to focus on.  But those things are only important to you.  They are not important to your students.  They have no idea what it means to be in grad school.  But they do deserve your best effort.


Be clear and understandable

You should always try to speak clearly and be understandable.  This is especially important for teaching in a STEM field, math in particular.  Many students come in thinking that the class will be difficult so you want to ease some of their fears by, at least, being easy to understand.  If you know you have a soft voice or people have difficulty understanding you, reiterate important things you say by writing them down for your students.


Course evaluations

At the end of the semester, your students will be submitting course evaluations for you and your class.  It may not seem like a big deal now, but these evaluations can become very important for your future in academia.  If you plan to apply for jobs in academia where you will have teaching responsibilities, your course evaluations will be a part of your application materials.


Related Post:  How to Improve Your Teaching Evaluations


As you start thinking about walking into your class on the first day of class, set a positive mindset.  Come into the experience with a positive attitude and try to make your class a good experience for your students.



Download the First Day Checklist!



Prepare, prepare, prepare

It is so important to prepare for your class before you enter the classroom.  Yes, you will be teaching a class that you could do the material in your sleep.  But if you are unprepared, you will stumble and possibly make things more confusing for your students.  This is not good.  You will lose all credibility to them and they will stop listening to you.


Once you’ve shown your students that you know what you are doing and what you are talking about, they will recognize your authority.  Then, a mistake here or there isn’t a big deal.  It will serve to make you more human to your students.


How to prepare

  • I suggest writing out all of your notes ahead of time. Then 30-60 minutes before class, go back over your notes.

  • It’s helpful to point out “interesting” things. Try showing them something that they have never seen before. Maybe you will inspire a student or two to declare your subject as their major.

  • I also like to mark, in my personal notes, where I want student feedback or to get them to work on a problem themselves.

  • Try to estimate how much time each section of your lecture will take. This will get better with time. It’s important to respect your students’ time and end class when you should. You also don’t want to have to rush through examples because you are running out of time.


Enjoying this so far?  Feel free to pin this image!

How to prepare for the first day of class for grad students and new faculty who are nervous about teaching for the first time


Presentation Style

It’s important to decide how you will present your lecture and what materials you will need.  Are you going to write on the board?  Will it be chalk or dry-erase?  Are you going to make slides and present using a projector?


Personally, I like to use a document camera.  When I use a doc cam, I’m always facing my students and I can gage their reactions and interest level as I teach.


In introductory level math courses (precalculus), I like to prepare notes as handouts for my students ahead of time.  When I have those prepared for the students (they are responsible for printing them and bringing them to class), I don’t have to spend time in class writing long questions and definitions.  Also, it reduces the chance that students write incorrect notes.  (This happens more than you would expect.)


Download the First Day Checklist!



The First Day of Class

Materials to bring on the first day

  • Chalk/markers/erasers just in case your technology doesn’t work or isn’t what you expected

  • Roll: Go ahead and print out a class roll for your students so that you know who was there and who wasn’t

  • Syllabus: You are probably teaching freshman and they have no idea how college actually works. So it is important to print out physical syllabi for them and highlight the important parts.


What to do when you get in the classroom

Write your name on the board along with your email address, course title, and meeting time.  In fact, you should write your name on the board for the first 2 weeks of class.  It’s amazing but students will go through a whole semester and not know their instructor’s name, despite the fact that you sign all of your emails and will send at least one email per week.


Another reason to include the course title and meeting time on the board before class is to give students in the wrong place a chance to leave and make it to their actual class on time.


I also like to give the class something to work on at the beginning of class while you all wait for class to start.  Everyone gets to class super early on the first day and this time can be super awkward if they are just staring at you being nervous.  And you are trying not to make eye contact with them.


My tip:  Create some type of icebreaker worksheet.  Or you can give them notecards to write their information on for you.  This can be helpful for students who are not yet on your roll.  You can have a way to contact them.


How to begin class

When class starts, introduce yourself and tell your students about the class and what you expect from them.  This is a good time to go over the syllabus.  I wouldn’t read the whole thing but I would highlight key points.  Sometimes I actually bring a highlighter to emphasize the most important parts of the syllabus.


Then I like to do some kind of icebreaker to loosen everyone up.  During the icebreaker, I get to know the students, they get to know each other, and they get to know me.  If you are interested in more details about my icebreaker activity and how I encourage engagement and participation in my classes, check out the Student Engagement Email Course.


Related Email Course:  Student Engagement for Graduate Students


After class

After class, I send my students a follow up email to remind them what was discussed in class and list any homework assignments they have.  If you are interested in that email, check out 22 Email Templates


Related Post:  How to Write an Email


You should also use this time to check to see if your class roll has been updated.  It’s good to check this until the last day to add/drop a class.  You may even get new student in your class once word gets out about how great you were on the first day!


Tips and Tricks

  • Practice your teacher voice (it’s louder and stronger than your normal voice)

  • Don’t tell your students that this is your first time teaching. If they ask, you probably shouldn’t lie. But they probably won’t ask.

  • Remain professional with students but don’t be afraid to bring out your personality.

  • Tell them why you enjoy the subject that you are teaching. You may convert some majors.


If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful, feel free to share it with your friends.  Also, for quick access to some of my suggestions, download the 1st day of class checklist.

Download the First Day Checklist!